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Twin Metals: Rep. Nolan has lost perspective and puts an outstanding resource at risk

The risks of failure to contain acid mine runoff from Twin Metals or any sulfide-based mine within the primary watershed of the Boundary Waters are simply too high.

Rep. Rick Nolan’s efforts to reverse the cancellation of mineral leases critical to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely are as cynical as they are reckless.

In arguing to reissue mineral leases, Nolan recites the same talking points echoed by other Twin Metals supporters: “Let’s let the process play out and see if the mine can really be done safely. If it can’t be done safely, we don’t want it either.”

It all sounds eminently reasonable, unless you understand the reality of how the process works, and why this argument is fundamentally at odds with reality.

When you allow the process to play out, the “study” always shows that the mine can operate within the existing rules, because that’s the assumption built into the EIS process. And in the case of sulfide-based mining, the study is almost always wrong — but the public doesn’t discover that fact until the damage is done.

And even if the study were to demonstrate that a proposed mine would fail to comply with state or federal laws, by the time the study is completed, politics invariably supersedes the science and the law.

In Minnesota, for example, it is illegal to permit a mine that will require perpetual water treatment to meet water quality standards. It’s a common-sense law, based on the sound principal that nothing created by humans lasts forever. At some point, the regulatory structures break down, records are lost, the water treatment ends because the money runs out, and the lakes and streams downstream will be polluted for centuries to come.

Yet none of this is expected to prevent the state of Minnesota from issuing a permit to mine to PolyMet Mining, even though the EIS on the project concludes that the proposed NorthMet mine will require perpetual water treatment. It’s one of those elephants in the room that the politicians and the regulators they oversee have simply decided to ignore. The expectation and demand for jobs in the short term overwhelms the environmental impacts in the long term. It’s simple, everyday political expediency.

However, Rep. Nolan’s decision to turn to the Trump administration to reverse the Twin Metals decision is not just expedient, it’s reckless. Nolan claims he wants a “scientific look” at whether Twin Metals can operate without major impacts to the environment, yet he knows he is turning to an administration with little more than disdain for both science and the environment. That he is willing to trust a president who has put the fox in charge of every regulatory henhouse, to oversee “protection” of a resource as extraordinary as the Boundary Waters wilderness is evidence that political ambition has outstripped his common sense.

Besides, in rejecting renewal of the Twin Metals leases, the U.S. Forest Service already examined the available peer-reviewed science and legitimately concluded that the risks of failure to contain acid mine runoff from Twin Metals or any sulfide-based mine within the primary watershed of the Boundary Waters are simply too high.

Indeed, the proposed site of the Twin Metals mine is arguably the worst place on the planet to site a sulfide-based copper-nickel mine. The surrounding geology has virtually no buffering capacity for acid runoff and it sits near the headwaters of one of the most pristine watersheds in the lower 48 states in a national forest that contains fully 20 percent of the fresh water within the entire national forest system.

Does Rep. Nolan really fail to understand the significance of the resource he is willing to permanently diminish? Does he not recognize the economic costs that threaten to offset any economic gains that mining might bring?

This latest incident is just more evidence of a troubling development with our Eighth District congressman. On this issue, and others affecting the environment, Rep. Nolan has lost perspective and is risking a precious national resource in the process.

Marshall Helmberger is the publisher of The Timberjay newspapers (including the Ely Timberjay, Tower-Soudan Timberjay and Cook-Orr Timberjay), where this commentary originally appeared. It is republished with permission.

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Comments (9)

Again, if you don't like the permitting process

work to change it. As it stands today, when you pass the permitting guidelines you get issued permits and mining can begin. The anti-mining folks would never allow iron ore/taconite mining to happen today. I doubt any mining would be allowed to start up today with certain groups suing and delaying the process of extracting iron ore, taconite, copper, nickel and many others metals/minerals we all use daily.

The New False Equivilance

Equating iron mining on the Range, far from the BWCA watershed, to copper-nickel mining very much within the watershed of the BWCA is ridiculous.

Sulfide mining poisons water.

Rep. Nolan does need to walk a fine line with jobs, but to equate iron ore mining and sulfide mining is to show ignorance of the process.

Rust is not a poison in water.

Sulfide mining can destroy plants, animals and an entire watershed PERMANENTLY.

Posterity is a real thing. Stewardship is a real thing.

Responsible people do not chase riches in the ground that make the land useless for the future.

Permit Process?

From the article:

"In Minnesota, for example, it is illegal to permit a mine that will require perpetual water treatment to meet water quality standards. It’s a common-sense law, based on the sound principal that nothing created by humans lasts forever. At some point, the regulatory structures break down, records are lost, the water treatment ends because the money runs out, and the lakes and streams downstream will be polluted for centuries to come.

Yet none of this is expected to prevent the state of Minnesota from issuing a permit to mine to PolyMet Mining, even though the EIS on the project concludes that the proposed NorthMet mine will require perpetual water treatment. It’s one of those elephants in the room that the politicians and the regulators they oversee have simply decided to ignore. The expectation and demand for jobs in the short term overwhelms the environmental impacts in the long term. It’s simple, everyday political expediency."

I wholeheartedly agree...

with the writer of the article. He has been absorbed by the dangers of further mining in northern Minnesota. It really does not matter what the permitting process has evolved into since the beginning of this fiasco. The permitting process has essentially been corrupted here in Minnesota. A study of the history will reveal that quite easily. What has happened it parallel with the dissolution of the gerrymandering process. Gerrymandering was to give hope to the under respresented. Gerrymandering has now been turned on it's head as various court decisions have revealed. Groups taking positions against mining and for the protection of water, soil, air and therefore public health have had to go to the EPA for leverage over the politicized Minnesota process. With threats to the EPA coming from this administration it is even more important for the Representative of the area to dig their heels in and stop it. Nolan is not doing this. However, the important thing to remember is that is that recycling will provide a better and safer source of the products then the catastrophe mining would create. Research it for yourself. Mining is not cost effective any longer. Nor will being "in bed" with mining interests.

Rep. Nolan and toxic sulfide mining

Rep. Nolan doesn't care about poisoning people with highly toxic sulfide mining waste, let alone the wilderness. The government’s highest priority should be to protect its citizens, allowing toxic sulfide mining in northern Minnesota's water rich environment poses an unacceptable risk and should be rejected.

Question

Mr. Smith:

You may be correct. However, my question is:

How useful will the metals be to us if the water turns into sulfuric acid?

I'm reminded of the old line

"Johnny was a chemist;s son, but Johnny is no more.
What he thought was H2O, was H2SO4."

Author Unknown

The future of the Arrowhead

Our politicians put immediate political motives over long-term public benefits.
Minnesota's water is our most valuable resource--yet PolyMet is being shoved through the permitting process despite the fact that its mine/plant site will need at least 500 years of water treatment. Healthy waters will be used and polluted, while the wetlands that stabilize the climate and ecology of northeast Minnesota are set to be destroyed.
While these impacts may not be immediate, they will be the legacy we leave for future generations and all the populations, families, and children living downstream.
It takes political courage to admit that mining harms what we most value and cherish, including our personal health, and that the costs of clean-up will far out-weigh any immediate gain.
We need a new class of people who will run for public office in order to serve for the highest good of humanity. Instead our nation is embroiled in political intrigue and bickering. We need to re-set our moral standards.

Rick Nolan's position

is supported by science and economics.